Atkins, Slim Fast, Muscle Milk, Lean Body, Premier, MetRX, Weider, the list goes on. Since gaining popularity with Joe Weider’s shakes in the 60s and 70s, whey protein has been a staple in the foundation of almost every athlete’s nutritional program. But why is this? What makes whey so special? And better yet, what is the difference in all the different options on the market? Isolate. Concentrate. Milk. Hydrolysate. Grass Fed. Pasture Raised. Organic. Did I miss one? And what about plant based? Isn’t it better for me? What if I’m lactose intolerant? Whew! That’s enough to make anyone’s brain hurt! All valid questions and concerns. And all which I will present reasoning for and tools to help make you an expert in all things muscle gain and fat loss on whey protein.
What Is It, Anywhey? (See what I did there?)
Whey protein is derived from pasteurized milk from cows or goats. Yes, there is goat whey. No, it isn’t gross either. Rather it’s quite good! More on that later. In its natural form, milk contains casein, a slower digesting protein that many people across the world tend to be somewhat allergic to, and whey. The ratio is roughly 20% whey and 80% casein. During the pasteurization process, whey moves to the top of the vats of milk and is scraped off. The separated whey may be used for many different modalities from this point. One of these is whey protein.
This process begins by heating (not to the point of denaturation) and filtering through a series of steps. Depending on how much filtering is done determines the type of whey protein produced. i.e. Concentrate - Still containing some natural fats and trace amounts of immunoglobulins, and some carbohydrates. Isolate - Further filtered to strain out more of the fats and carbohydrates. And finally Hydrolysate - The most reduced form of whey protein made by a process of enzymatic hydrolysis.
Which Whey Is Best?
This depends on many variables. For instance, if you are a bodybuilder wanting the absolute fastest absorbing protein possible so that you can take in more food soon after drinking a shake, hydrolysate may be for you.
If you want all the benefits of whey protein and the constituents contained therein, including immune boosting, recovery, growth, weight loss, satiety, and meal replacement to name a few, then concentrate might be the best.
Looking for a middle ground? Isolate sometimes keeps some of the beneficial constituents aside from amino acids. Yet will still be quickly absorbed.
How quick is...quick? Starting from slowest, whey will begin to digest within 2 hours in its concentrate form. Full digestion is closer to 2.5 hours. Isolates are faster, clocking in at around 1.5-2 hours. Hydrolysate is quickest, showing digestibility in the 1 hour range. As a side note, milk protein which is at least part whey (20%) digests quite a bit slower. This is due to the 80% casein protein content of milk, shown to break down 3-4 times slower.
Do these numbers mean one is better than the other? Not necessarily. It's more about finding the one that suits your goals best. All the above contain the 20 amino acids that make up a complete protein structure. These include the eight essential amino acids. Contained within the eight essentials are the three Branched Chain Aminos Acids known for boosting muscle growth and physiological recovery. These are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. This data alone may be enough for many to make their decision when it comes to selecting the optimal type of whey protein. But, as we progress you will be armed with more information to help make your determination.
The Details on Whey
The newest buzzword surrounding protein can mean a lot, or absolutely nothing. I’m talking, of course, about grass-fed protein. But, is it that different?
From a performance perspective, not so much. No high budget, quality research studies have been carried out to really drive home the argument for grass-fed whey over standard whey. But hear me out. If the whey is grass-fed, meaning that the cattle have grazed for a minimum of 300 or so days out of the year and fed pelleted grass the rest of the year, then it could make a very big difference in terms of quality. If this isn’t the case, then the product is typically not worth the money. Some companies guarantee their protein meets this standard. But, some of these same companies produce many lower quality brands as well. Many of the lower quality brands these companies own retail for higher price points than their grass fed counterparts. This is due most likely to the fact that the “big name” proteins on the market have price driven by demand and advertising. Their higher quality cousins are not in such high demand, at least not yet. In this case, the choice is simple. It makes sense to buy the better quality for equal or less money.
Grass fed protein has higher amounts of CLA or Conjugated Linoleic Acids. These help to boost fat metabolism. Benefits are amplified further if you buy certified organic versions of grass fed whey. This ensures that no pesticides or herbicides have been used on or around the cattle or goats that the whey is derived from. Most grass fed offerings also have higher amounts of beneficial protein compounds called globulins. These help to boost gut health and fortify baby formula.
What About Goat Whey?
Turns out that goat protein is the closest thing to mother’s milk for babies. Goat whey contains some of those beneficial globulins to help boost the baby’s gut immune production. For those moms that can’t produce their own, quality grass fed and organic goat whey is a great option to base the formula. For kids or adults who can’t seem to digest regular whey protein well, goat derived whey is also a great option. Whey has many notable characteristics and benefits that make it a great option, no matter what type or animal sourcing it is derived from. Yes, a case can be made that organic and grass fed and finished would be optimal as mentioned above. A few more nuances to pay attention to when searching out a premium whey protein product are ingredients such as; artificial flavors and colors, emulsifiers, thickening agents such as carrageenan and some gums, fillers such as maltodextrin and sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium.
Whey protein has also shown in many studies to be the most effective type of protein for fat metabolism and muscle gain. Does this mean that plant or other food derived proteins are ineffective? Not at all. In fact, the results don't contain much statistical significance. I only bring it up because whey protein comes out with a more affordable price point, better flavor and texture options, easier digestibility, and higher amounts of certain nutrients like Leucine for muscle building and globulins for immune function. (1,2) This should not be taken as a negative stance on plant based protein options. The best protein for you is the protein you enjoy and can tolerate!
The Bottom Line
Whey protein comes in a variety of forms. And whether it be Isolate, Concentrate, Hydrolysate, cattle or goat derived, they all can be useful for many different modalities. Here are a few key takeaways to consider next time you are shopping:
Want to Learn More?
If you have questions about choosing the best whey, or any type of protein, for yourself, give us a call or come by and ask! We would love to go over all the different options we have to offer. From every type of whey mentioned in this article, to egg and beef, and every type of plant based protein as well. We have the right protein to suit your goals. And, you can shop for all of your protein needs right here!